Multi-scale geoengineering research to advance the techniques of field characterisation and analysis

Dr Hamid Roshan explains the benefits of his research for petroleum and mining exploration and details its surprising reach into fields as diverse as water, materials science and biomedical engineering.

Although he spends much of his time deep in the details of the fundamental interplay of different physical processes in rocks, Dr Hamid Roshan is emphatic: Dr Hamid Roshan

“My primary focus is producing research that is advantageous for industry – that has concrete benefits for companies and can help them in analysis of the field data. Not just for petroleum and mining operations but benefits that stretch beyond, into fields as diverse as water, mechanical, materials science, civil and biomedical engineering,” he says.
A Senior Lecturer in the School of Minerals Energy Resources Engineering, Roshan says advances in technology have enabled his research group to create instruments and methods that have led to highly practical ways to examine geoengineering problems across multiphysical, multi-scale perspectives.

“By multiphysical, I mean the ability to measure and consider the interactions between the four main physical components that a particular rock is subject to, i.e. thermal, hydraulic, chemical and mechanical. My group’s core research focuses on the experimentation and mathematical modelling of these phenomena in rocks, in particular shales and coals,” he continues.

Roshan says that building this fundamental knowledge from the micro-to-core scale means they are able to mathematically model the physical process and scale it up for use in for the larger scale. This is what makes his research very attractive to industry.

“We can conduct sophisticated experiments, from the micrometer scale to macro (core) scale, using custom built tools and systems. Then we can relate the findings to physical measurements already conducted in the field, such as acoustic logs, making the information they already have much more useful,” he continues.

According to Roshan, the use of their research in borehole logging – which is the practice of creating a detailed record of properties of geologic formations for oil and gas, groundwater, mineral and geothermal exploration – is a great example of the positive impact their research is already having in the real world.

“Companies usually have their records by borehole logging tools that measure rock properties using acoustics, density, neutron, gamma rays etc. Using our research, we can supplement their existing tools with accurate mathematical equations to give them greater insights into their measurements. Greater insights mean improved productivity and efficiency.”

Roshan says he is currently working on projects with both mining and petroleum companies and says his familiarity with the industry has helped him identify the best and most useful ways to approach his research.

“I worked in industry before I moved into academia and so understand their language, the types of problems they face and the kinds of tools that would be most useful. Providing our industry partners with physical-mathematical frameworks they can use to interpret and transform their field measurements, as a toolbox for solving problems, that’s a key end goal of our research,” Roshan continues.

In an interesting twist, some of these new methods, technologies and tools are proving to have interdisciplinary applications, some of which have taken Roshan quite by surprise. “I have hosted visitors from different schools to our lab and had conversations that have spun off into fascinating new collaborations,” he says. 

This includes a project with a team of mechanical engineers who design materials for aircraft wings. “They are planning to use our systems to see the changes in structure of these composite materials at a range of different stress and subject to the different multiphysical processes,” he says.

Water engineers are another group that are interested in collaborating with Roshan to investigate how water moves through an underground aquifer, for example, or other different porous materials.

But the project that has taken Roshan most by surprise is one he is conducting in collaboration with a group of medical researchers who are interested in using the tools and systems to investigate the multiphysical processes at work in humans, in particular brain tissues.

“I never in my life thought that one day the work I do on rock might be applicable to brains and body tissues,” Roshan continues. “But, having said that, I believe that research only revolutionises an industry when a multidisciplinary team comes together. Luckily, this approach is something UNSW is very focused on at the moment so I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.”

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